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Ethnography: A Look at Gender Difference in Social Interaction
An ethnographic approach was chosen for this study because it has the potential to provide a descriptive, interpretive, evaluative and authentic vision of society (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995). The observation was done by myself. I went to the Marketplace Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on March 4th. I stayed from one o’clock to three o’clock in the afternoon. I sat on a bench close to the food court, and observed people who were age 18 and up. I observed the ways in which males and females were different when it came to social interaction.
The article “Gender and relationships: Influences on agentic and communal behaviors” talked about agency and communion. According to the article, agency is the striving for mastery or power, and communion is the striving for intimacy and connectedness (Suh, 2004). According to measures of masculine and feminine sex roles, men make decisions easily, don’t give up easily, and are competitive, outspoken, and outgoing. Females like kids, and are warm, emotional, considerate, tactful, gentle, and helpful. Gender differences appear primarily in group or social contexts. Stereotypic beliefs are that women are communal and men are agentic (Suh, 2004). Women do domestic work more than men, have fewer hours in paid employment, and are said to have occupations of lower status. Men are more agentic with male friends, than women are with female friends. Women are more communal with female friends, than men are with male friends (Suh, 2004). This relates to my observation in the way my hypothesis was formed. I used stereotypes, and labels that men and women already have, as a knowledge base for what I might observe.
The article, “Putting Gender into Context: An Interactive Model of Gender-Related Behavior,” stated that the enactment of gender takes place within social interaction (Deaux, 1987). This enactment takes place due to self-verification and self-presentation. They are naturally interwoven together. Because people monitor behavior internally and externally, they are concerned with self-presentation and self-verification simultaneously (Deaux, 1987). When I was doing my observation, I did notice people monitoring their behavior, or their child’s behavior. I focused more on who each person was interacting with, instead of how they were interacting.
In Deborah Tannen’s article, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” she made a good point about the history of women and talking. In history, women were punished for talking too much. In Colonial America, they were held underwater, or even gagged. Women were believed to talk too much; however, studies find that men talk more in meetings, groups, and classrooms (Tannen, 1991). Men feel good with public speaking, while women feel good with speaking in private. Women’s language of conversation is a way to establish connections, negotiating, and maintain relationships. Men talk as a means to preserve independence, negotiate and maintain status. “Home is where there is the silent man and talkative woman” (Tannen, 1991). That’s the distinction between public and private speaking. My observation contradicted this article. More women were interacting and communicating than men. However, I was interested in the historical aspect of the stereotypes we have today, and this gave a little hint as to what kinds of things happened to women, who spoke out of turn back in the colonial time period.
An interesting topic that arose from my observation was the use of mobile phones. In “Community and social interaction in the wireless city: Wi-Fi use in public and semi-public spaces,” Hampton talked about how a few studies have addressed how wireless internet use in public spaces influences social life. Recent years have seen growth in availability of wireless internet access in public places (Hampton, 2008). Mobile phones make community instantly accessible, and social ties are reachable anywhere at any time. Hampton made the point that mobile phones create a private sphere of interaction in public spaces. When people engage with mobile phones, they create a private cocoon that reduces the likelihood of public encounters (Hampton, 2008). To get a picture of what this means, while I was observing, a middle aged male was sitting at a table alone, but he was talking on his phone to someone. One could tell he was absorbed in the conversation because he did not take notice of any one that walked by him, and he stayed sitting there for about 45 minutes after I had sat down and started my observation.
The hypothesis I formed before the observation at the mall was, “Middle aged females will be more social with the same gender, than older or young females. Young males will be more social with the opposite gender, than middle aged or older males.” I created this hypothesis on the basis of past experiences when shopping with my mother, and my friends. There always seemed to be more females of middle age than any other age group. At the mall, there would always seem to be many more young males than any age group. I also used basic stereotypes that everyone hears growing up. Such stereotypes include, “women are supposed to be submissive and do as they are told,” and, “men are always in charge.” I do not personally believe in these; however, I did use them as a basis for my hypothesis.
Over spring break I went home to Davie County, North Carolina. It is a rural town with a small shopping mall. Not many people actually go to the mall, because Walmart is just down the street. I chose to go to the Market Place Mall, instead of Walmart, and sit at the food court. I got there at one in the afternoon, on Tuesday, March 4th. Not a lot of people were there. I sat down on a bench beside the food court, and I took notes on my phone, so I would not draw attention to myself. I figured I would have attention if I had a notebook in front of me. I watched everyone that walked by me, because no one was sitting in the food court. When the people would walk by, I would record their age range, gender, and whether they were alone or with someone, and what gender those someone’s were. I would also record if they were interacting together. I stayed for two hours just sitting there on the bench, collecting data. When I finished at the shopping mall, I went home and wrote down everything I had on my notes in my phone. Then i drew up a spreadsheet in excel, and put in all of the information I collected. It helped me organize, and get precise calculations.
Field Notes Summary
In total, I observed 152 people over the two hour time period. There were 50 males and 102 females. 68 were middle aged adults. Out if the 68, 24 were men. 15 of the men were alone, 4 were with the same gender and 5 were with females. Also, out of the 68 middle aged adults, 44 were women. 13 of them were alone, 26 were with the same gender, and 5 were with males.
Out of the 152 people I observed, 40 were older adults. 14 were men. 9 of them were alone, 2 were with the same gender, and 3 were with females. 26 out of the 40 were women. 16 of the older women were alone, 6 were with the same gender, and 4 were with males.
Out of the 152 people, 42 were young adults. 13 were men. 5 of them were alone, 3 were with the same gender, and 5 were with females. There were 29 young women. 7 of them were alone, 16 were with the same gender, and 6 were with males. I also observed two teenagers there. They were the only teenagers I noticed being there.
A little less than half of the people I observed were alone. To be exact, 65, out of the 152 people, were alone. Phone use was not a wide spread action I saw people doing, if they were alone. I only saw 8, out of the 65 people, on their phones.
When it comes to social interaction, over half of the people observed were partaking in some sort of communication with each other. 87, out of the 152 people, were interacting. I saw 50 females talking with each other, and I saw 9 males talking with each other. There were 28 people partaking in interaction with the opposite gender. That includes two sets, of a male and female, holding hands.
Conclusion on Hypothesis
Restating my hypothesis, middle aged females will be more social with the same gender than older females, and young males will be social with the opposite gender than middle aged or older males. My hypothesis was completely right. The first part of my hypothesis was that middle aged females were more social with the same gender then older females were. The data I collected about the 152 people I observed showed that 59% of middle aged females were social with the same gender, while only 23% of older females were social with the same gender. The second part of my hypothesis was that young males were more social with the opposite gender than any other age group of males. The data I collected for the 152 people I observed showed that 38% of young males were social with the opposite gender, while only 20% of middle aged males were social with the opposite gender, and 21% of older males were social with the opposite gender.
What I found most interesting was the difference between men and women’s social interaction, in general. Judith Hall published an observational study on nonverbal gender differences and discussed the cultural reasons as to those differences. In her study, she noted women as smiling and laughing more, as well as having a better understanding of others’ nonverbal cues. She believed that women were encouraged to be more emotionally expressive in their language, thus better developed in nonverbal communication. Men, on the other hand, were taught to be less expressive, to suppress their emotions, and thus be less nonverbally active in communication and more sporadic in their use of nonverbal cues. This builds on what I found in my observation. There were more women that I observed, but in total, there were more men who were alone. Actually, over half the men I observed, 29 out of 50, were alone, while 36 of the 102 females, I observed, were alone. That’s only 35 % compared to the 56% of men.
What I Learned
What I learned focused on men and women. With women, I learned that they interact more with females, than males, at the mall. I also learned that more middle age women go to the Market Place Mall than any other age group, according to my observation. With men, I learned that they interact more with females, then males, at the mall. I also learned that most men come alone to the mall, according to my observation.
Deaux, K., & Major, B. (January 01, 1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior. Psychological Review, 94, 3, 369-389
Hammersley, M. & Atkinson, P. (1995). Ethnography: principles in practice. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge.
Hampton, K., & Gupta, N. (November, 13, 2008). Community and social interaction in the wireless city: Wi-Fi use in public and semi-public spaces. New Media & Society, 10, 6, 831-850
Igarashi, T., Takai, J., & Yoshida, T. (January 01, 2005). Gender differences in social network development via mobile phone text messages: A longitudinal study. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 5, 691-713.
Knapp, M., Hall, J., & Horgan, T. (2013). Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction (8 ed.). Cengage Learning.
Suh, E. J., Moskowitz, D. S., Fournier, M. A., & Zuroff, D. C. (2004). Gender and relationships: Influences on agentic and communal behaviors. Personal Relationships, 11(1), 41-60
Tannen, D. (1991). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation (p. 113). London: Virago.
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